The kindness of strangers: one woman making a huge difference

Februarie 15, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

I met the most incredible woman yesterday. I am doing an article on Aher Arop Bol, the Sudanese refugee who shot to international fame last year after writing the story of his life, a life spent mostly traversing the continent on his own. 

In The Lost Boy (an INCREDIBLE, must-read-book with a story that lingers for weeks after reading it) Aher tells how he was seperated from his parents in the Sudan-war. The opening paragraph immediately grabbed me: 

“I arrived at a refugee camp in Ethiopia on the shoulders of my uncle Atem, who had cleared a way for us through the bush as we fled. I soon learned that the camp was called Panyido. It was 1987 and I was three or four years old.”


The book basically tells how Aher survived and fled from country to country for the next 14 years until he ended up in Pretoria. Here he met a real angel, Sannie Meiring, a 70-year old retired teacher who decided she wants to give back something to society. She offered her services to an adult education centre in the heart of Pretoria, and here she met Aher seven years ago.


But she did more than listen to his story – she offered him a room in her townhouse, plus the use of a PC so he could write his story. She soon discovered he was a born writer and storyteller, and thus The Lost Boy was born. She proudly tells me that she didn’t have to change much except grammar here and there. The metaphors, the stories, everything was his own, meticulous recollections of his past.


As soon as the rest of the world became aware of Aher’s book, literary agents started bidding, and the book is being translated into four languages as we speak: Spanish, German and Italian, if I remember correctly. Oh yes, and Catalan. 


I can’t tell too much of the story I am writing (you can read it soon), but during the three hours I spent in Tant Sannie’s house, I learnt what loving thy neighbour really means. I arrived at the gate where George, a casual labourer that often comes to Sannie for help was sitting with his daughter Gift. As he explained to me, “Mies Sannie” helps him with money for food or transport, food, clothes for his 6-year old daughter whose mother “just died out of the blue” last year, etc. Basically anything that he needs to survive.


George, Gift and I was promptly invited inside, and made to sit at the dining room table. Appletart and juice was served while Aher finished his conversation with a fellow Sudanese man, Dr. Atem, after which they joined us.


The good doctor is one of the tallest people I have ever seen, and like Aher, a refugee from the civil war in Sudan. Dr. Atem is a resident doctor at the Pretoria Academic Hospital where he is training to be surgeon, and visits Aher on Sundays so they can talk about current affairs, the upcoming elections in Sudan, etc.


So, there I was sitting at a dining room table in Pretoria North with an out-of-work unskilled man, a young man who fled a continent in search of education and who is currently busy with his LL.B-degree at Unisa and a soon to be surgeon. And the humble yet dynamic woman that brought all of us together happily to-ing-and-fro-ing and watching all her guests, serving tea and more appletart.


And as if what she has done for Aher and George isn’t enough, she in between attending to us, discussing African politics, she answered a few rings of the buzzer at the gate by going outside with half loaves of bread. George told me that Mies Sannie daily gives bread and food to anybody that comes to ask at the gate.


We need more people like Tant Sannie in this world… And more Ahers and Dr. Atems and last but not least, more men like George. Proud, tenacious, friendly and decent.


Can’t decide who made the biggest impression on me…







4 antwoorde op The kindness of strangers: one woman making a huge difference

  1. It’s blogging or finishing an in-depth article on colon cancer. Blogging it is…

  2. And a lot less messy…

  3. Wow! These kind of people remind us of what life is really all about!

  4. Napier het gesê op Februarie 16, 2010

    now that gave me goosebumps to read… what a priviledge for you to have met such wonderful people

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